In Netflix's science fiction reboot of Lost In Space, the eldest child of the Robinson family, three kids (boy, girl, girl) and two parents (woman, man), is black. The other kids are not. They are white. And so are the parents. And all of the kids address the parents as "mom" and "dad." What's this about? Now recall, if you can, the episode of that '70s show, What's Happening, that features the Doobie Brothers. Recall the moment when the one black member of the band, Tiran Porter, is asked by Raj's little sister Dee if he is "a half brother" (the other members are white). He then explains to her that they are not really related, but they do depend on each other like a family. Dee then says something mean about her own brother that explodes the laugh track (go to 14:46 to see the scene).
For a good part of Lost In Space we are in Dee's position. How is the sister related to the other Robinsons? Why does she have the same family name? Was she adopted? Or does this have something to do with the whole post-racial thing that's ubiquitous in science fiction cinema? Is the eldest child not seen as black because in the year the show is set, 2048, humans have gone beyond all that bothersome race stuff? Humans are now just humans. Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell) is just a person. No one sees her color. She is a teen doctor with a few confidence issues. Judy lives in a society where all lives matter. This is the kind of society that many white Americans believe is either already here or just around the corner. Those white people in the past were not even really racist; they were ignorant. The whites of today or the near future are up on things.
We finally get an answer to the show's race riddle right in the middle of its fifth episode, "Transmission." The scene is amazing because it says something that almost all other science fiction movies and TV shows refuse to admit: The future is not post-racial. (Spoiler Alert)
A person in the show's future—which has the best-trained humans using a strange but powerful technology to travel at "magnificent speeds across the universe" to find and colonize habitable planets (this colonial fantasy connects the show with its literary source)—recognizes that Judy Robinson is indeed black. More impressive yet, she also knows she is black. The person who wonders about her blackness is Don West (Ignacio Serricchio).
The scene: Don, who has just been hit in the face by Judy (she thought he was a bad guy, but realized he is not), is fixing his broken nose in the spaceship's medical room:
Don: "Who taught you self-defense there, doc?"
Judy: "It's Judy, my dad taught me."
Don: "Is he here too?" (Don has not seen a black man on the spaceship)
Judy: "Yeah, John Robinson is my dad." (Don gives Judy a puzzled look that says: he's white, and you're black; Judy responds with a look of exasperation) "He came into the picture after I was born."
Don: (recognizing he has brought up race) "It's a sensitive issue."
Judy: "Not particularly."
And there you have it. As much race in space as you ever going to get these days. Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker), Judy's mother, had an earlier relationship with a black man. He is her father. She is mixed. Her mother was with a black man before she was with the white man. The rest of the episode and the series doesn't go into how the ghost of the black man interacts with or impacts the very white family, which is on some strange planet and dealing with new life forms, a robot that is programmed to kill humans (but is obedient to a human boy, the black girl's younger brother, for sentimental reasons), and a villain, Dr. Smith, performed with great skill and evil pleasure by Parker Posey. But we have to admire that the show sees race at all. That it's even mentioned. That its writers imagined a future where it persists.
This is not the case with The Expanse (a show I love), or Altered Carbon (Asian guy becomes a white guy just like that—and do you have a problem with that? This is the future, son!), or the popular reboot (and also the original) of Battlestar Galactica, or Gattaca (no more racism, just genocentricsm—discrimination of the genes), or The Matrix (a movie that has a futuristic mammy).
In every episode of Netflix's anthology series Black Mirror, and in every episode of Amazon's anthology series Electric Dreams, there's absolutely nothing about something that's so present in the world we live in: race ("GOP strategist: Trump base wants 'anyone who’s darker than a latte deported'"). Why this insistence that the future (even the near future) will not be absolutely post-racial? Someone who has been burned by racism (Dee for example, or me, or billions of people on this planet) will not forget it so easily. And so, its absence from science fiction only tells us one thing: those who cannot easily or so completely forget racism and the physical and psychic damage it has caused are not writing the scripts for science fiction films and TV shows.